Ahmadinejad calls on US to leave Iraq

Monday 03 March 2008 15.32
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - On two-day visit to Iraq
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - On two-day visit to Iraq

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged US-led foreign forces to leave Iraq, saying without them the region would live in peace.

Mr Ahmadinejad's speech came on the second day of his visit to Iraq, the first ever by an Iranian president, in a sign of growing rapprochement between the two neighbours which fought a war in the 1980s that left one million people dead.

The US military has 158,000 troops stationed in Iraq and Washington is keen to curb the rising influence in Iraq of its arch-foe Tehran, which US commanders have accused of training and  arming Shia militias. Mr Ahmadinejad brushed off the accusations.

Mr Ahmadinejad yesterday blamed Washington for bringing terrorism to the Middle East.  

On Saturday, US President George W Bush accused Iran of fomenting the violence in Iraq and called on it to stop sending sophisticated equipment.

Mr Ahmadinejad's call to withdraw foreign troops appeared to be boosted by the warm reception he received from the Shia-led Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki yesterday.

Yesterday the Iranian president said his visit had opened a 'new page' in relations with Iraq.

Separately, at least 23 people have been killed in bomb attacks and shootings around Iraq. US troops also announced the discovery of a mass grave containing the bodies of 14 men bound and shot in the head.

The deadliest attacks were in Baghdad, where at least 19 people were killed in two car bombings, while an Iraqi police chief was killed in an ambush in the southern port city of Basra.

Government figures issued on Saturday showed that the total number of Iraqis killed in February was up by 33% over the previous month, reversing six months of falling death tolls.

In the single biggest attack today, at least 15 people were killed and 45 wounded when a car bomb exploded near a labour ministry building in a commercial area of Baghdad's Bab al-Muazam neighbourhood.

The injured included ministry employees and students from the nearby Baghdad University.

The attack came just hours after a car bomb hit an Iraqi army checkpoint at Maisaloon Square in eastern Baghdad, killing four people and damaging three nearby house. At least 12 people were injured.

In the southern port city of Basra, gunmen ambushed a top Iraqi provincial police chief's convoy and shot him and his three bodyguards dead.